Excerpt from Bird of Another Heaven by James Houston, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Bird of Another Heaven

by James Houston

Bird of Another Heaven
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 352 pages
    Apr 2008, 352 pages

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“I know,” she said.“He told me.”

“Ah, he told you this. And is that why you spoke the chant?”

“I do not know why I spoke it. Not since my father died have I said those names.”

For just an instant the king’s eyes opened wider, and Nani held his gaze with a kind of fearlessness that ruffled his composure. What passed between them is best described by Nani herself, as she wrote about this day many years later:

I often think of those first moments in his railroad car. When his eyes met mine there was a spark such as I had not seen before. His eyes were black as coal, but light came through them. Though he was older than me by nearly thirty years, at that moment he had a young man’s eyes. I felt I knew him. In those days I did not know how to say such things or describe them for myself. I know now that he had the same feeling and was surprised by what he saw in the eyes of someone my age. I knew many young women, he would one day confess to me, but they were all trained to attend to me as the king and to do my bidding in any way I requested. I thought of them as birds who flew down from the sky and into my life and out of my life.You did not have the training to know what was expected of you in the presence of a king. But you knew something else. You were a bird from another heaven. And that captivated me.

He asked Nani if she’d been to Hawai’i. She said she’d only heard stories. Suppose you had the chance to travel there, he said, would it interest you? It was my father’s dream, she said, but the islands are so very far away.

The king’s broad smile returned, a warm, expectant smile.

“Something has occurred to me. In Honolulu I have need for a kahili bearer, someone who can carry the royal standard from time to time. It must be a person of a certain known family background. You could be this person.”

Nani could no longer match his gaze, nor could she speak. His presence was suddenly overpowering, his physical size, the riveting command of his black eyes, which had taken on a conspiratorial glint. His smile filled the room. She looked down at the carpet, studying its floral swirls.

“We are a small party now,” he said. “My chamberlain. My aide. A few retainers.We will easily have room for one more on the ship.”

Still she couldn’t speak. This was too much to think about.

He asked the opinion of the Kinsman–as speechless now as Nani– who’d never heard of such a thing, a woman of this age, hardly more than a girl, setting out to travel with the king of Hawai’i. She was like a daughter to him, and granddaughter too. He wanted to object, yet it was not his place to question or contradict Kalakaua.

“Is your mother here today?” asked the king. “Do you have a husband? Or family to care for?”

At the word “husband,” her cheeks grew warm. The first thought of escaping Edward’s constant attention came with a rush of buoyant relief. She didn’t want the king to see her cheeks.With head inclined, still peering at the carpet, she said,“My mother also passed away. I have a younger
sister who lives up the river.”

Finding his voice, the Kinsman said,“We must talk of this among ourselves,Your Majesty. Nani teaches in the school. The younger children need her there.”

“Of course. I can see that in her. She already has the look of a wise teacher. But perhaps there is also work for her in Hawai’i.We encourage our people to come home, you know . . . if only for a short time.”

A door slid open, and the chamberlain appeared, officiously lifting a round silver watch from his vest pocket.“A carriage is waiting. We have fifteen minutes to get there.”

“What about tomorrow? What time do we leave?”

“Eight a.m. Tomorrow afternoon we connect with the last ferry from Oakland across to San Francisco.”

Excerpted from Bird of Another Heaven by James D. Houston Copyright © 2007 by James D. Houston. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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